Over these fifty-two years of ministry, I have been an observer of some individuals with very effective ministries that ended well.  Many of these servants of Christ have helped mold my own life and ministry, and they all have been conservative in their perspective.  While they may have varied in their ability and approach, they were faithful to the Word of God.  Admittedly, none of them was perfect; but they were mature, and only heaven will tell of their impact on those around them.

During these years, I have also been an observer of far too many failures.  I speak here of fundamentalism’s Hall of Shame.  Some in conservative circles have not escaped the “castaway” branding.  Their failure has done irreparable harm to the cause of Christ and has left a dark cloud over the work of the Lord.  The reasons for these personal and ministry disasters are many, but they all have some things in common.  It would be fair to say that each was related to pride, the dark side of fundamentalism.  Ministry and moral failure are not limited to the conservatives; liberals and evangelicals have their own list of horror stories.  I will raise that issue later.

What I am sure of is that, in every case on both sides of the issue, each instance of failure was related to theology.  Every act, habit, decision, sin, or success rises from our own belief system. In ministry, worship, and communication, we betray what we believe.  Jesus repeatedly taught this principle “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matthew 12:34) and “for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:” (Matthew 15:19)  It is what the new America believes that is sending her over the cliff.  It is what professing Christians believe that is sending them over a theological cliff.

THE DANGERS OF EXTREMES

All movements have their extremes.  We try to make that simple with phrases such as “from conservative to liberal”, or “from right to left”.  In each case, there is a central position that embraces the heart of a movement.  In Christianity, the center is those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, without any addition or detraction.  Those who move right or left from that point may claim Bible authority, but every step away becomes a bit more dangerous.

I was raised in a church where “externals” were a high priority.  With the passing of time, much study, and the help of godly mentors, I came to understand grace as it is clearly stated in the scripture.  This position was solidified by an understanding that the Bible is the Word of God, and I must not add or detract from the text.  Many people whom I love dearly are still caught in the web of externalism, and my guess is that they are unaware of the pain it causes.  What I do know is that this extreme is fraught with theological error.  Theological and moral failures are bedfellows.

The other sad story is about those who didn’t stop at the scripture’s clear teaching of grace.  They traveled beyond the clear authority and sufficiency of the text to a false freedom and a veiled libertarianism.  They are headed for a theological cliff because what they have chosen to practice is based on what they have added or removed from scripture.  The freedom they proclaim in their move toward the left is not the freedom of scripture.  As a believer, my freedom makes me free to choose what God has said is right, and not what I may want to do.  The curse of human reason has taken over the thinking of many, and the demands of the flesh have captured them.  Rather than the grace they refer to as having given them freedom, they have actually become slaves by choice.  Sin always does that; just when you think you are free, you find yourself in bondage. They fail to heed the apostle’s warning in Romans 6:15.

GOOD FOR THE SOUL, BAD FOR THE REPUTATION

I need to confess to you that I feel a bit of anger in the next step of this discussion; perhaps you will understand why.  Some time ago, I wrote an article entitled “Where have all the young fundamentalists gone?”  It described the journey of many youngsters who have been caught up in the cult of intellectualism.  They have become enamored with the teachings of scholars, intellectuals, philosophers, and academics who have little caution for a theology that is biblical. This dangerous road is made even more slippery with the rise of Evangelical Moderates.  The unstable youth worship at the feet of these men, buy everything they publish, rush to every conference and event they can find.  It is not hard to spot those who blindly pursue modern explanations based on human reason.  Their speech betrays them; they pick up the buzz words and use them with impunity, thinking they will thus be viewed as intellectuals.  The sad part of this story is that most of them have no clue that they are following theological error and are headed for the cliff.

There is, however, a lurking tragedy behind this story.  All this talk about freedom and worship of human independence has led to a wave of moral failure among these men.  Erroneous theology is always accompanied by moral failure, so why wouldn’t these hapless souls fall into destructive practices?  They are taught a flawed view of grace: God doesn’t care what you do; God hasn’t spoken this; enjoy yourself, and don’t let anyone judge you; let your own mind be your guide.  It is this same errant freedom that is taught in the emergent and emerging church. God is just a fetish, a name to use, not the sovereign creator, the Eternal Holy One.  After all, they say, there is no hell, and the New Jerusalem is just figment of your imagination.  Forget the hereafter; live for the here and now.

BE STILL, MY SOUL

My anger is not just about the theological error that is being pressed on young men who have not been taught well enough to be able to spot and respond to extra-biblical concepts.  My feeling of grief is for those young men who have no idea of the moral failure that lies ahead of them. Just like those who have already fallen, they are not aware that they are headed for a theological cliff and a moral pit.  They will act on what they believe, because that is what people do.  On the other hand, my soul is comforted by young men who have not been led astray and by those men, past and present, who found the anchor and held fast to the Bible as the Word of God, without addition or detraction.  I speak of those who stand firm on a theology that is biblical, knowing that it is this belief that will be a defense against the moral decline so prevalent among professing Christians today. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word”. (Psalm 119:9)